The country’s desperate digitalization push has created the perfect storm for IT experts to leave work to start their own consultancies.

Consulting is now the post-pandemic buzzword in India. According to a recent report by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), India has 6,000 consultancy firms in the metropolitan cities, and close to 2,000 R&D institutions and laboratories supporting these firms.

The industry is also expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 30% and to become a US$3.6bn industry by this year.

As the world looks towards digitalization, technology undergoes changes to suit the advanced need of the businesses. This leads to a rise in demand for providing specialized consulting services to solve the problems that arise with this innovation.

Thanks to the increasing numbers of small- to medium-sized enterprises that do not need [or cannot afford] a full-time tech resource, there is a demand for OEM-neutral consultants that suggest the best practices in cybersecurity, AI and block chain.

Fill the gap in a dynamic way

Chief Information Security Officers who have served organizations to tackle various security concerns have decided that their skills need to be utilized beyond one just organization.

Since cyberattacks are also on the rise, more of the senior IT people are quitting their full-time jobs to start their own firms across the business functionalities. The result: an upward trend of small IT consulting startups.

Take for instance, Suresh Kumar from Kerala-based Skybertech who had worked for fintech companies and the likes of Muthoot group as Chief Information Officer (CIO). He has started his own firm called Virtual CIO and charges clients only one-fifth of what he cost his employers as a full-timer.

Kumar said: “A smaller company does not need a full-time officer; they need somebody who can help them out when they have an issue.” He specializes in retail, manufacturing and finance industries and more of the family-owned enterprises that forms a major chunk of Indian businesses.

This approach works because in recent months companies have been searching for people with the right proper knowledge but cost less to outsource to.

Said Vallabha Desai from Bangalore-based VAPT Consultants Pte Ltd: “If I am employed with one company, my work contract does not allow me to work for others. Consulting on my own allows me to share my knowledge and support different companies to help build a properly-secured infrastructure. I have a dynamic role now. I am the decision-maker.  I work with various industries in relation to cybersecurity, and focus more on fintechs.”

According to Desai, not all the issues raised by employees get solved, and the CEO decides what should be worked on and what is put aside. However, when it comes to hiring consultants, the company has to abide by mutually-agreed terms.

Consultants concur that this work arrangement in turn helps them to explore different technologies, resources and environments and helps them to build their knowledge and expertise even further. More importantly, they can have a better network of clients now than before.

Differentiation factor and experience

What makes one consultant more suited to a project than another? It depends on which industries a consultant has experience with, and on how well the consultant can communicate and understand the work brief, the potential client’s corporate culture and its strengths and weaknesses.

In other words, different projects of varying levels of complexity will require different levels of consultancy expertise. Consultants unanimously agree that it is not merely the amount of technical knowledge and experience that counts, but also the soft skills such as empathy, intuition and mental maturity.

According to Daya Prakash, an ex-CIO who has started his own IT firm, consultants should have enough experience to understand the pain points in the market. “There are three things they should be able to do. One, how well they understand the pain points of the company’s issues. Two, their ability to clearly-explain what solutions can work… and three, how effective the solution they bring to the table is.”

Not a bed of roses

Benefits aside, private consulting naturally comes with a few challenges that come with being one’s own boss.

One issue faced by the consultants is gaining full authority on a project they take up. The ‘outsider’ tag follows them no matter how much domain knowledge they possess. While a consultant’s job would be to advise the client on addressing the internal and external challenges, many organizational policies do not grant them organization-wide authority. The consultants are made accountable only for the projects they are working on, despite their need for cooperation from personnel not included in the project. Conversely, in a full-time job, one would be responsible and accountable for anything related to one’s job title.

Nevertheless, some consultants say they are more relaxed now in their work as they are not under the immense pressures of their former jobs. For example, TG Dhandapani started consulting after his retirement, and said his new job gives him a thrill: “When I am sharing the knowledge gained over the years with a company that ends up benefiting from my skills, it gives me so much joy.”

Dhandapani said the role allows people like him to keep busy and monetize their hard-earned knowledge. He also said that doing this job after retirement gives him the luxury of speaking his mind to clients when necessary—at the risk of losing repeat business. This is because at this point in his life, the work is not just about money to him.

“To me, this job is not about sustenance but for the enjoyment of life.”

Not everyone makes it

On the other hand, there are also consultants who have ended up returning to full-time working mode, mainly because they realized it was too much of a hassle to handle their own administrative work and not having enough time to pick up more cybersecurity knowledge.

One such person we spoke to was Glory Nelson, Chief People and Strategy Officer of Bangalore-based Xebai IT architects. She did consultancy work for a year before returning to a full-time job. “One had to constantly keep tabs on what kind of opportunity was available in the market and think of how to sell. I also had to manage the accounting, day-to-day operations, marketing, tax returns and more,” said Glory.

“In a full-time job, I only have to think about what I should do and how to do it so I can make the project more beneficial. If there is a target or a goal, the challenge of achieving it is all I have to work on.”